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Am J Hum Genet. 2000 Mar;66(3):873-91.

Functional analysis of the neurofibromatosis type 2 protein by means of disease-causing point mutations.

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  • 1Department of Genetics, School of Medicine, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA 94305-5120, USA.


Despite intense study of the neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) tumor-suppressor protein merlin, the biological properties and tumor-suppressor functions of merlin are still largely unknown. In this study, we examined the molecular activities of NF2-causing mutant merlin proteins in transfected mammalian cells, to elucidate the merlin properties that are critical for tumor-suppressor function. Most important, we found that 80% of the merlin mutants studied significantly altered cell adhesion, causing cells to detach from the substratum. This finding implies a function for merlin in regulating cell-matrix attachment, and changes in cell adhesion caused by mutant protein expression may be an initial step in the pathogenesis of NF2. In addition, five different mutations in merlin caused a significant increase in detergent solubility of merlin compared to wild type, indicating a decreased ability to interact with the cytoskeleton. Although not correlated to the cell-adhesion phenotype, four missense mutations decreased the binding of merlin to the ERM-interacting protein EBP-50, implicating this interaction in merlin inhibition of cell growth. Last, we found that some NF2 point mutations in merlin most closely resembled gain-of-function alleles in their cellular phenotype, which suggests that mutant NF2 alleles may not always act in a loss-of-function manner, as had been assumed, but may include a spectrum of allelic types with different phenotypic effects on the function of the protein. In aggregate, these cellular phenotypes provide a useful assay for identifying the functional domains and molecular partners necessary for merlin tumor-suppressor activity.

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